An attempt to link the online and offline food writing worlds in Melbourne has resulted in blogger fury and the publishers of GRAM magazine rethinking their entire business strategy.
GRAM is a new concept, an A3-sized magazine covering Melbourne’s bustling food culture whose entire content is extracts of already published food blogs, essentially creating a print version of a website.
The basic gist is that GRAM writes a 50-100 word extract of a food blog post they’ve selected as being particularly interesting. Interactive codes next to the article let you scan your smart phone and instantly look up the article in full. The majority of ads — there are large glossy ads for gourmet food products and Tourism Victoria, amongst others — also have a 2D barcode to scan and visit the company’s website, watch a YouTube interview or “like” the company on Facebook.
A monthly magazine by design studio StudioCea, 20,000 copies of GRAM were distributed across 1000 bars, restaurants and shops in Melbourne last week. The first edition was launched December 17, but it was the latest edition which caused an uproar amongst the blogging community.
Some bloggers saw GRAM as ripping off their original content to make money. Probably not unreasonably so, as the first group email sent out to bloggers back in November — the first that anyone had heard of GRAM — noted it was “an independent and free publication, funded only through advertising”.
The problem was that rather than offering bloggers to opt-in to GRAM, the email only offered an opt-out option. A line at the bottom of the long-winded introduction reads that GRAM’s “editorial policy ensures any authors who choose not to be included, for whatever reason, are respected, and won’t be featured”.
Legally, GRAM rewrites enough of the content to get around copyright laws. Quote marks are used, author names are available and links to the work are clear. Morally and ethically, the lines are a little blurrier and it’s got parts of the Melbourne food blogging community offside.
“They call it ‘Melbourne Food Culture. Compiled’. I call it ‘Melbourne Food Bloggers’ Content. Stolen’,” wrote Sarah from Sarah Cooks. Sarah’s content was used on the GRAM website without first being asked if she would like to be included, as she never received the original email.
“The internet is full of other people stealing other people’s content, this is taking it a step further,” Ed Charles, from popular food blog Tomato, told Crikey. Charles immediately refused to be included in GRAM, noting that no other print magazine “has been so audacious as to take people’s content”.
GRAM’s method was “a little bit sneaky”, says Joyce Watts from the MEL: HOT OR NOT blog: “It’s not illegal but it’s not a good way to get people on board.” Watts received the original email and forgot about it until she heard her blog was featured in the latest edition. She says the traffic received so far from GRAM has been “negligible”.
Editor Roberto Cea admits serious mistakes were made by just sending a generic group email and that GRAM was surprised by the quick backlash by bloggers: “We thought we were being courteous… We approached it wrongly in the sense that we didn’t necessarily ask people for permission … it didn’t occur to us. It was naivety.”
One problem, highlights Charles, is the poor writing of the GRAM posts. For example:
“SaucyThyme@SaucyThyme is such a fan of Otsumami, she visited three times in two months and enjoyed the soft shell crag, the soba salad and the nasu dengaku – a ‘gorgeous’ eggplant and baby spinach dish. ‘A constant winner’ for Saucy Time, she ordered the ‘divine’ kingfish tataki on every occasion. It’s one dish that she says on busy nights the restaurant ‘usually sells of out’.”
Rather than saying “visited three times in two months”, Saucy Thyme wrote in the original post: “I am guilty of indulging myself here 3 times in the past 2 months, so have decided to bind them all into one post. Brace yourself for a plethora of mouth-watering dishes.” There’s then vivid descriptions of the smell and flavour of meals and comments about the decor.
But the simple writing was deliberate, says Cea. The idea was that they would compose little mini reports of the blog posts and that selected quotes would be “the colour, the excitement, the tone of their articles that would encourage that people would read on…”. GRAM sees itself as curator to highlight good content, rather than a producer of great writing.
Cea says GRAM is now considering reproducing entire blog posts and paying writers for republishing posts after realising the backlash and negativity from the blogging community. Money has been received for ads, says Cea, but adds: “We’re not making money [yet], that’s for sure.”
Paying for content may help GRAM’s relationship with the blogging world, but not all bloggers will be interested as they blog for personal and creative reasons, suggests Watts. “The majority of bloggers I know don’t do it for money.”
GRAM has certaintly learnt some quick and fast lessons about social media and the blogging world. “We’ve learnt that every single blogger has a completely different perspective,” admitted Cea.
“We still think that there’s room for a street press mag that reflects the online good blogging world. It’s just our approach needs to change.”